Sleep apnea medication is really an illusion. There is no pharmaceutical treatment as such for obstructive sleep apnea. The only effective treatment is the use of a CPAP machine or other device to help keep the airways open during sleep or, in severe cases, surgical intervention to remove or lessen any existing obstructions. There are, however, some medications that can be used to treat the daytime sleepiness that is a frequent symptom of sleep apnea.
In sleep apnea, the airway becomes restricted during sleep, causing the affected individual to stop breathing for several seconds at a time. This can happen frequently during the night and usually when these episodes occur, they cause the individual to wake up. The result is getting fitful or restless sleep, which can leave an individual feeling groggy or sleepy during the day.
As this pronounced daytime sleepiness can lead to impaired concentration, making it difficult to go about your daily routine, it can become very disruptive. This is why so many individuals have sought a sleep apnea medication. Several stimulant medications, including nicotine, theophylline, naloxone, and acetazolamide have been used to try and enhance dilation of airways and avoid breathing disruptions, but none have been entirely successful.
In the case of daytime drowsiness brought on by sleep apnea, however, there is one very effective medication: modafinil (Provigil). Though scientists don't understand how modafinil works, we do know that it causes increased alertness and doesn't carry any pronounced side effects. Unlike more common stimulant drugs, there doesn't seem to be any effect on the heart or blood pressure with modafinil, which makes it the drug of choice for these individuals.
YakobchukOlena / stock.adobe.com
YakobchukOlena / stock.adobe.com
Although it has been very effective at treating daytime drowsiness, doctors are quick to emphasize the fact that modafinil is not a sleep apnea drug. It should not be considered a cure and certainly should not be used in place of CPAP treatment. Because the side effects of obstructive sleep apnea are potentially lethal, it is extremely important that you don't cut any corners when it comes to treatment. It can quite literally be a matter of life or death.
Other central nervous system stimulants can be used to combat daytime drowsiness by increasing alertness. These include caffeine and methylphenidate (Ritalin), both of which are often prescribed for sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. They can also be useful for individuals with sleep apnea to help battle drowsiness and improve alertness during waking hours.
Of course, as with any condition, sleep apnea medication and treatment should never be used except under a doctor's care. If you are experiencing the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, you should talk to your doctor right away so that you can have testing done and get a proper diagnosis. Then your doctor will be able to discuss treatment options with you and together you can discover a safe and effective treatment plan that works for you.
Since there is a correlation between obstructive sleep apnea and obesity, perhaps the best "sleep apnea medication" involves dietary changes and increased exercise. There is also a connection between sleep apnea and diabetes, both of which correlate with obesity.
While not all patients with sleep apnea are obese and there is no guarantee that losing weight will cure sleep apnea it is still a good idea to maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritious foods, and get regular exercise even if just for the many other benefits that accrue from a healthy lifestyle. Given that these are serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions one should always see their doctor before undertaking drastic dietary changes or starting an exercise regimen.
Sleep apnea can be a frightening condition and its effects, if left untreated, can take over your life. While there is no "miracle pill" that can cure this condition, it is possible to control the symptoms of sleep apnea with some medications, and lifestyle changes. Don't let sleep apnea get the better of you; talk to your doctor today and find out what you can do to fight back and sleep well.